Fatness and food the focus of Zoë Schneider’s fabulous artwork


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Schneider views grottos — decorated caves in ancient Rome and the 18th-century Rococo recurrence — as “beautiful” and “mysterious” places. Today the word grotesque is a common synonym of ugly and repulsive.

In this gallery grotto, “Instead of using shells and stonework, I’ve used breads and chips to coat the layers of the grotto,” which are set against a Rococo-style “riot of colour” in amplified pastels.

(The grotto does have shells in a sense: Plaster and alginate casts of Schneider’s own torso represent the shells fat people build to cope with pervasive negative stereotypes.)

Rococo is “very ornate and joyful and frivolous and over the top and wild and just like caked with stuff,” which Schneider sees as “a really good metaphor for fatness, which is viewed as a chaotic thing.”

REGINA, SASK : September 1, 2020 -- This piece of art by Zoë Schneider is a plaster shell of part of her torso, from the exhibition This Grotto Breathes, on display at the Neutral Ground gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan on Sept. 1, 2020. BRANDON HARDER/ Regina Leader-Post
This piece of art by Zoë Schneider is a plaster shell of part of her torso, from the exhibition This Grotto Breathes. Photo by BRANDON HARDER /Regina Leader-Post

The bread sculptures are not an arbitrary choice. Schneider’s grandmother baked bread every Monday for decades, to give to her family and friends. Food represented love and comfort.

“But then also that same grandma … was very concerned with other people’s weight, with her weight, she’d comment on weight all the time. She was disturbed by gaining weight. So if anyone in our family gained weight, it was not a good thing. If somebody lost weight, it was championed. Even celebrities gaining and losing weight was focused on,” said Schneider.

It was a contradiction: “I’m supposed to receive your love and be shown love with food, but I’m also not supposed to get fat.”

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